Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Tribe of Ephraim

As descendants of the original 12 sons of Israel, the lives and personalities of the descendants of Jacob significantly impacted on the history and behavior of the future tribe members who were to descend from them. While Ephraim and Menashe were grandsons rather than sons of Jacob, once the Children of Israel left Egypt the descendants of Ephraim and Menashe became unique tribes of their own (instead of there being a single Tribe of Joseph).

Numerous well-known personalities descended from the Tribe of Ephraim: Joshua bin Nun, Deborah the Prophetess, Abdon the Judge (who is noted in Judges 12:13-15 for having 40 sons and 30 grandsons), and Jereboam, the first ruler of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Several biblical narratives focus on the Tribe of Ephraim. The earliest (chronologically) is a Midrash based on I Chronicles 7:20-22, "And the sons of Ephraim...and Ezer and Elad, whom the men of Gath who were born in the land slew, because they came to take away their cattle. And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him." The Midrash explains this esoteric reference by suggesting that 3,000 Ephraimites left Egypt 30 years before Moses led the Israelites to freedom. These Ephraimites were slaughtered by Philistines and their bones lay in piles by the side of the road (Exodus Rabbah 20:11).

Another interesting narrative about Ephraim indicated that the Ephraimites had their own unique accent. After Jephthah the Judge successfully led a battle against the Ammonites, a conflict arose between Jephthah and his Gileadite soldiers and the Ephraimites, who felt slighted that they had not been included in the battle (even though they had not responded to the initial call). In response to the violent behavior of the Ephraimites, the Gileadites, who held the Ford over the Jordan River, let no man pass who said "Sibboleth" (like an Ephraimites) rather then "Shibboleth" (Judges 12:1-7).

When the unified kingdom divided, Ephraim became part of the Northen Kingdom of Israel. In fact, the Kingdom of Israel’s first king, Jereboam, was from the Tribe of Ephraim. 

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